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We are four dragons who share our words, thoughts and work here on our blog – we also welcome anyone else to share their stories, poems, articles, reviews… and anything else!
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Here you will find our posts in various categories, and although most of these are what you might expect, here, in brief, is what you can find:

– writing – we are writers, that’s what we do, but we have separated our posts into categories. Please click on one of the links below or choose a category from the alphabetical list to the left

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We also share posts on specific subjects:

Our writers post whole stories – which will or already have been published:

As well as sharing our writing, we write about writing, language, we review different arts, and the progress we are making on our own writing projects:

…and then there are the odds and ends…

You can find details about our books on our Dragon Bookshop page.

DON’T FORGET OUR NEW FAVOURITES PAGES! You can find them on the home page.

73 blogs…2 writers…1 challenge… Here you will find a featured book. It may be a launch of a new book we have written or a review of one of our favourites that we have written previously.

 

Brimdraca / Lois        –     Lois

Eorodraca / Richard  –    Richard

An addictive read, but…

Lois is still busy reading:

It doesn’t seem more than a few days ago that I was writing about what makes a good book. The fairly obvious reason that I was writing it was that I was tearing through a really good book, hardly able to drag myself out of it, and when forced to do so, would sneak back to read the next part. Much as I love real actual books made of paper, in general they are more expensive, and they do take up a lot of room. I’m desperately trying to shed stuff, stuff of all sorts, some even precious stuff, and that includes books I’ve read once and know I’ll never read again. Yes, I know it’s lovely to have shelves and shelves of books, all sitting there on their shelves, but we just haven’t the room. At some point we will have to downsize, and having such clear memories of helping someone move to a smaller place in a hurry and all the things which were randomly cast off because we hadn’t time or space to do anything more, I want our exit from here to the next abode, whenever that is, to be less rushed and more planned.. This has strayed away from the point I was making about reading; most books I now buy are eBooks, which means they are accessible everywhere! on my phone, on this computer, on my iPad as well as my eReader!

Back to what I was originally going to comment on, the good book I was addictively reading. It was Scrublands by Chris Hammer; set in Australia, the main character is an experienced war journalist who after a particularly traumatic experience, is sent to the middle of nowhere to a small outback town a year after a horrific mass shooting. His brief is to report on how such a small community comes to terms with something like that… but of course he ends up investigating why it happened and the complex lives and history of the inhabitants. It is a brilliantly written book, wonderfully descriptive but the descriptions of the setting and surrounding area doesn’t detract but enhances the narrative. The characters are weird and eccentric and in some ways repulsive, but realistic all the same. The plotlines were complex and did need careful reading but did completely hang together even though it was farfetched.

Having read that, I bought the next in the series – I am one of those readers who if I like a book, need to read the rest by the author, especially with the same characters. Chris Hammer’s sequel/follow on is ‘Silver’ in which the same main character, the journalist features; this time it follows his personal story, moving back to the small seaside town where he was born and grew up – although of course things, beginning with the murder of his childhood chum, lead him back to his journalistic life. In this story his personal relationships, and his investigation of his own past run parallel to his investigation into his friend’s murder and dodgy doings at a nearby spiritual retreat centre. I enjoyed it, and found it just as addictive to read, but somehow I began to lose my engagement with the main character. I know in fiction characters do unrealistic, unbelievable and sometimes plain silly things for the sake of the plot, but my suspended disbelief faltered. I could not believe a man of his age and experience would do some of the things he did – and that kept intruding as I raced through it. It was good, very good, but I would rate it less good than the first.

Nothing daunted, I have ordered the third in the series, ‘Trust’. I will report back!

FROM MINCE TO MICROWAVES

My first memories of food are wartime ones, as I was four, nearly five when war was declared on 3rd September 1939.  At first, nothing really changed, except our address, as my poor parents had to pack up in a hurry and move from Harrow, in Middlesex, to Welwyn Garden City, in Hertfordshire.   WGC was the second Garden City planned and built by Louis de Soissons – the first one was Letchworth, slightly further north.

Rationing soon raised its ugly head, and my mother had to register to buy rationed goods at either  Welwyn Stores, a newly built department store, which had a big food hall, or the Co-operative Stores, a little further on.   Welwyn Stores, always referred to as ‘The Stores’ was her choice, and I used to accompany her there, when I was not at school.   I was entranced by the long Grocery counters, where our sugar ration was packed deftly into very thick paper bags, deep blue in colour.   Everything was on shelves behind the counters, tins of fruit, fish or vegetables, when there were any, and dried fruit (equally scarce later on) which came from, I think, tubs, to be weighed and packed into the ubiquitous blue bags.

The fresh food Hall sold fruit and vegetables, which were often in short supply, and the usual cold meats, cheese and bacon.   Cheese was carefully cut from a block with a wire, and the sales assistant had to be very careful not to cut too much, or she would be paring it down until it weighed whatever the ration was.  There was a meat counter, and a fish counter.  

The meat ration was sold by price. If one person was allowed a shilling’s worth of meat a week (5p in today’s money!) they could have, if available, a very small piece of steak, or quite a lot of cheaper stewing meat.   Scragg End was about the cheapest – lot of bone, not much meat, but made good stock!   My mother was a whizz at making lovely casseroles, always full of vegetables (when available) and knew how to make the rations stretch.   We usually managed to have a small lamb joint at weekends, blade end of shoulder was best, if you could get it, and I was extremely popular, as I loved the fat!   Cold lamb on Monday, and then sometimes my favourite dish, mince in batter pudding!  With plenty of gravy and lots of vegetables.   To me it was scrumptious, and it definitely made the meat ration go round.

My father grew some of our vegetables, but the rest were supplied by a big van from a small village to the north of us.   The brothers running the business had a small holding and an orchard, to supplement the stuff they got from Covent Garden.   I remember their Victoria plums.   Big fat luscious golden fruit with the lovely red blush of the true Victoria.   My mother bottled pounds of plums in big Kilner jars, throughout the war, so there was always fruit available.   She also bottled other fruit in season, gooseberries, and those small dark purple early plums.   My job, as I was expected to help, and I was always willing to do so, was to poke, gently! the plums down in the jar with the handle of a wooden spoon, so that the jar was filled to capacity and there were no gaps.  Or, and not so popular, topping and tailing gooseberries!

The fruit and Vegetable Brothers were also dab hands with a gun, and would often sell rabbits they had killed on the farm.   Gutted, but not skinned, I was eventually promoted (about the age of 8 or 9 I suppose) to skinning the rabbit.   My mother hated doing it, and I became quite adept at this. The only part upsetting me was when I had to pull the skin over their little paws! Rabbit stew, however, was delicious, you just had to be careful not to eat the shot! Our stew was always served in shallow bowls with a big edge, and there was quite a competition between me and my younger sister to see who had the most pieces of shot around the edge of their plate!

Mum was a good Victoria Sponge maker, but all through the war, and after as far as I can recollect, ‘The Cake Man’ would appear, once a fortnight, surely not weekly? We would always have a fruit cake, (the fruit rather far apart) and a chocolate cake, my favourite as there was a very thin layer of some sort of chocolate spread in the middle.   The cakes were fairly dry, as the fat ration was small.  We must have got through a fair amount of cake at tea time!

Eventually the war ended and although rationing continued for some years, gradually foodstuffs became more available, and as the 1950s moved on, exciting goods began to appear.  Macaroni, as I remember it, was a dry tubular pasta though we did not know that term, which my mother sometimes made into a macaroni cheese. Now, you could get macaroni milk pudding in a tin! And spaghetti came in little circles in a tomato sauce, also in a tin!  As more and more people went on foreign holidays, so more ‘exotic’ foodstuffs appeared in the shops.   Olive oil, which previously had been obtained from the chemist shop in very small bottles (for loosening ear wax, I think) now appeared on the shelves in the Grocers’.

By the time the 1950s drew to a close I had finished my education, got a job in London and left home.   Cooking in a bed sit with one solid electric ring on the floor was an art in itself! If you wanted to eat a hot meal you fried, boiled, opened a tin or bought a pressure cooker, which I did, though I never really mastered it! I’m not quite sure how we managed, as there were no take-aways, no microwave ovens and no single portion meals to cook in them. Luckily a couple of places I worked at had good canteens with excellent meals from about 2 shillings to 4 shillings (10p to 20p). Seems cheap, especially if you have never known pre-decimal money, but I only earned about £10 a week max which covered rent, food, travel, everything!

By the time I got married in 1960, loads of recipe books had appeared, to help those young women who had not had the opportunity of being taught cookery by their mothers! I still have ‘Good Housekeeping’s Picture Cookery’ which I was given as a wedding present, with delightfully elaborate salads and jellied desserts, but good solid methods of cooking practically everything.  It is well worn!

At that time, I had £3 per week housekeeping money, for the two of us, and it was quite a job to make it go round.  Meals were still traditionally of the  ‘meat and two veg’ variety and I began to realise just how skilled my mother had been in making everything stretch to meals for four of us each week.  Even if two of us were quite small, we were growing girls!

My husband was a man who liked lots of gravy, with everything. So a nice cheap macaroni cheese was not popular, unless it was sloppy enough to eat with a spoon! But by now pasta meals were becoming more popular, and even packet meals appeared.  Do you remember Vesta Curry? We took two or three packets of that on our camping holidays, as it only needed very little cooking. We thought it great!    I don’t suppose Vesta meals are still obtainable, like many things I used to be fond of.   Cremola, a sort of yellow milk pudding, made of rice, or maybe semolina, to which you added milk and made like custard.   Or Angel Delight!   Oh, I remember Butterscotch Angel Delight with great fondness.   Sometimes I daringly added a few slices of banana to it.   Heaven!

Gradually our tastes changed. Chicken became cheap and a roast chicken could make three days meal for two, and maybe some for sandwiches. Tinned tomatoes, onions and various herbs could make another meal, or help a small amount of mince go a very long way!

 And the mention of herbs takes me back a long way. Mint was the only herb we knew. In vinegar, with roast lamb. Spices were confined to nutmeg, which went into the Christmas cake or on the top of a baked rice pudding. Basil was a boys’ name and dill, coriander and cumin were a foreign language. To be honest, I’m still not sure what to do with lemongrass, star anise or turmeric! I’m not young enough to be completely ‘au fait’ with them.

And now today, living on my own, I can get every kind of frozen ready meal I fancy, I can fill my freezer (we all have freezers now) with enough meals for a week and need never cook again. Very tempting, especially as cooking for one person is a bit of a ‘faff’ even doing it the old way of cooking for two and freezing one.

But however did we manage before microwaves were invented?

(c)Gillian Peall

April 1st… and our March review

Welcome to our March review. It’s It’s just over a year since our world and our lives changed so dramatically, and for many so disastrously. Here in the UK we seem to be seeing that light at the end of the very long tunnel we’ve been travelling through, and we hope wherever you live the same will soon be true for you too. We hope that our writing, and yours too, has been a support to you, and we hope that in the weeks and months going forward so it will continue. We continue to hope that you and you friends and family have remained safe, and we offer our sincere thoughts to any of you who have been affected in any way whatsoever.

First of all, a few stats

The beginning of the year is often a quiet time; in March we posted 8 stories, poems and other pieces which received 516 views, had 405 lovely visitors, 27 likes and 1 comments from 40 different countries.  As ever, it is really great and much appreciated, thank you very much to you all across the world! In our different ways we have been busy, and have not been as hot on writing and sharing blog posts, 8 this month, but as the days become longer and positive thoughts and feelings are springing like the seasonal flowers, maybe our thoughts will burst into leaf this coming month.

To all our readers, world-wide, thank you so much for joining us, and welcome to all our new friends.

The blog

We continue our busy 2021 writing activities, especially now when going out is not always an option; we may not roam outside, but we can roam in our imaginations! We continue to share our concerns about global issues and especially climate warming and the effects the way we live our lives impacts on our world. The situation home and abroad might be brightening, but the advice remains the same – you know what you have to do in your own country wherever you are, so do the right thing, protect yourselves, protect your family and friends, help the world to heal.

On a positive note, we welcome any contributions to our blog, especially now, from anyone who would like to write articles, stories or poems about anything! We love to share others writing of all sorts! Please send us any stories, poems, articles which we can share here – copyrighted to you and with full credits to you and links to your places!

News

Lois’s news:

Lois has caught up with herself editing what she’s written for her next and as yet untitled Radwinter story, eight in the series, and is forging ahead to finish it. An old lady has gone missing, Thomas has been asked by a friend to investigate the disappearance of her husband twelve years ago, apparently washed out to see on a stormy autumn night twelve years ago, and also to try and find the annoying trouble-maker who is apparently a double for him! Two Thomases, what a thought!

Richard’s news:

As ever, Richard continues to busily pursue a variety of different writing projects,  – and just to remind you all, his latest book, An Arctic Adventure is available now; it chronicles his adventures in Greenland and Iceland. Go to his Richard Kefford Amazon page where you will find it and his other books! Richard is polishing up his magnifying lens and geologist’s hammer, waterproofing his boots and refolding his maps ready for some rocky adventures. He hopes to be out with his geology group on walks, rambles and adventures, and no doubt will share them here.

Other dragon news:

John, Lois and Richard belong to a writing group who are now pulling together stories, poems and other pieces to make a collection for an anthology. Early days, but we will bring you news and more details as it becomes available.

Dragon’s publications

All our published work is available on Amazon, search for Gillian Peall, John Watts, Richard Kefford, and Lois Elsden.

Just a reminder that our friend historian and blogger, Andrew Simpson, who shares many of the stories from his own blog, is writing some very interesting articles not only addressing the difficulties of our times, but how ordinary people, just like us, coped in the past. You can find his blog https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.com/ ; his published books are available on Amazon.

A further reminder that our friend Ann Bancroft also has a book available on Amazon, an account of her spiritual journey.

Until the end of next month, au revoir! Keep following our blog!!

Ooh, that sounds interesting

There are lots of ways you know it’s a good book, and I guess it’s different for different people. I started reading a book I came across somewhere on social media, someone just casually mentioned it and I thought ooh, that sounds interesting, that sounds up my reading street! It was set in Australia, in a small town in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a searing summer, and the main character, a journalist, arrives to find out about an incident which happened the previous year which resulted in several deaths. He was going to talk to the survivors and tell their story – not of the incident, but of their lives afterwards. The premise appealed, but also having read Jane Harper’s book The Dry which I thought was so brilliant, I thought it would be interesting to read something else with a similar setting.

I’m about half a dozen chapters in, and I know that (so far) it’s a good book, because during the day I’ve kept wanting to sneak off and read it. I only normally read at night when I’m in bed, too much to do during the day (even in these weird times) but a couple of times today I have been tempted. Other ways I know it’s a good book, is when it stays with me. It might not be perfect, it might not be the best written, it might even have faults like holes in the plot, or annoying characters, or boring bits, but if on the whole it’s a good book it will lodge in my mind. For days and sometimes longer after I’ve finished it my thoughts will drift back to it and aspects of it, and I’ll feel engaged with it and disappointed I’ve finished reading it.

When I finish a book I immediately buy the next book by the author, or even the next couple of books, then it’s a good book. As above, it might not be the most perfect book, but if I feel I have a commitment to the writer then I will read as many of their books as I can, maybe one after the other, greedily with no thought of how annoyed I’ll be when I’ve finished them all and there are no more. Then I will keep my eye on the author’s page and social media, hoping they will write another. I’ll tell all my friends about it, probably write about it here as I’m doing now, comment on sites to do with the author,  pre-order as soon as it’s available and as soon as I get it then plunge in. Telling all my friends about it – I probably bore their socks off because I will go on about it, and ages after I’ve finished it, i will keep referring back to it. If they read it and don’t like it, I feel so disappointed!

So what’s the book set in Australia which set me off writing this? It’s Scrublands by Chris Hammer, published in 2019. and oh good, it seems he has written other novels with the same main character!

Future

Dragons Richard and Lois belong to a writing group which now zooms of course; Richard shared his story written to the topic ‘the future’ and now Lois shares hers:

Future

Vella laughed as the other two struggled up the stony path towards her, crouching beneath the overhanging branches. Santa grinned up at her, slow and steady, slow and steady, she didn’t mind that she plodded behind, and nor did she mind that as usual Vella had to beaten them to the finish. Livia smiled tightly, out of breath and irritated by having given in to Vella in the first place, and by Santa for not really caring what they did. It’s supposed to be a bloody holiday, not a bloody keep fit regime, Livia mumbled mentally. She was annoyed with herself even more, for being so grouchy, for being kiddish about having to do something she didn’t want to do, and being so short-winded and feeble when even chunky Santa was moving steadily and barely out of breath.

“Are you sure this is the right place, Liv?” Vella asked and moved over so they could sit, or in Livia’s case collapse, onto a big, white, smooth-topped boulder.

“It’s what the guide book said unless we took a wrong turn somewhere,” Santa replied. Her kindness was so casual, so deft, Livia never knew if it was intended or just spontaneous. Livia was so breathless she could barely speak, her limbs trembling, shaking like jelly.

Livia, being interested in the past, had read up about the history of the place, and had told them the story of young people from early times, climbing up the steep hillside to find the magic pool, or St Valentine’s Pool, or Lindo’s pool, or any of the other names the watery place held over the ages. It was where the unwed could peer in and at certain times see the face of their true love, the one they would marry. She told Santa and Vella the first night they were here, as they sat in the small bar, drinking wine and planning what they would do over the next few days. They’d intended to have a few days by the sea, but then Vella’s uncle offered them his small lodge for free, and free was better than paying for something.

Vella lay back on the stone, hands behind her head, eyes shut, drinking in the sunshine, Santa sat contentedly gazing round, and now Livia’s trembling had stopped, she got off the boulder. She wandered, trying to find a little shade beneath the spindly trees; she was still steaming from the hot clamber up the steep track. There was no sign of any pool, or even a puddle, the ground baked hard by the weeks of sun which had blessed the summer. Don’t say there is no blooming pool after all this, or don’t say even more that it is further up!

“So where’s the pool?” Santa asked, as if reading her mind. “It’s probably dried up, or never existed, or we’re in the wrong place, but never mind, it’s glorious up here and so peaceful!”

“Oh, we’ve got to find the pool, I want to just make sure I’m the next Mrs Travolta!” Vella stretched her arms in the air as if she was about to embrace an imaginary man.

Livia tripped over something, almost fell, but clutched a spindly silver birch and looking down saw a small wooden arrow with the word, ‘pool‘ still faintly visible. It pointed towards a rocky cliff face and at the bottom, in the shade of the entrance to a small cavity in the limestone, was a shallow pool, little more than a puddle. Was this it? Was this Saint whoever’s pool? It took her a moment to blink the sun from her eyes and see the detail in this shadowy place, and to notice the small offerings – shells arranged in a heart, a burned down candle, some wilted flowers, a string of red beads wound round a twig, feathers, coins, little things people had found in their pockets, or maybe brought especially.

“Over here!” she called, her weariness banished, the cool of the shade reviving her. Vella and Santa were impressed she’d found it and she didn’t mention the small faded wooden arrow.

“What’s all that junk?” Vella asked and bent to pick up one of the votive offerings.

“Don’t! You mustn’t do that!” exclaimed Santa, unexpectedly sharply.

“Sorry,” Vella snatched back her hand, slightly shocked at Santa’s tone. “So what do we do, how do we see our true love? How do I catch a glimpse of John waiting for me as I walk down the aisle?”

“You and blooming John Travolta!” Santa said teasing, trying to recover from her outburst. “Yes, come on Liv, what do we do?”

“I guess we should leave an offering, but before or after? Are we saying please, or thank you?”

Vella opened her mouth to make another joke, but restrained herself, she didn’t want to upset Santa, it was so unlike her to be touchy, and she was always so kind and nice. “I think we should do it before, in hope, don’t you?”

“OK, Mrs Travolta, are you going first then?” Livia asked.

They searched their pockets, Santa looked in her bag and Vella found a blue ribbon. She’d worn it in her hair but it kept sliding out.

“Should I say anything?” she asked the others, for once looking a little less confident.

“Do whatever you think you should,” Livia told her. “Do you want to be private, should we step away?” Vella didn’t say anything. “Come on, Santa, we’ll just keep back over here and let Vella make her offering.”

Livia had meant to be comical, but somehow it sounded serious. She and Santa retreated and Livia looked up, thinking it had clouded over, but no, the sky was a pellucid blue.  They watched Vella step close to the pool, stop and hesitate almost as if she was offering a prayer with her ribbon. She knelt down, leaned across the water to place her small offering. She bent over the pool and looked down; she was very still, and may have whispered something or it might have been the rustle of birch leaves.

Vella stood abruptly, remembering to keep her head lowered to avoid the overhanging rock and came towards her friends, suddenly smiling. Livia was reminded of the Miracles song, my smile is my make-up I wear since my break up with you. Vella never spoke about Roger, and if his name came up she was quick to make a bitchy remark about him, but maybe deep inside she was blue.

“I’ll start planning the wedding tonight, no doubt John will be on the next plane over from the States!” she said merrily,

“Me next!” said Santa, “I have the buttons that came off my cuff when it caught on that bramble,” and she showed them the two sun coloured buttons. She had intended to sew them on again. “I wonder who I will see, I hope it’s not John Travolta!”

Vella said nothing but went back to the boulder and sat down again, hunched over and staring at the ground. Santa was looking into the pool, standing to the side so Livia could see she was smiling slightly, not mocking, but happy.

“Let me see my true love,” Santa said calmly, then knelt, placed her buttons on either side of the pool, and, resting her hands on the ground, bent low over the surface of the water.

Livia, by now was intrigued; Vella had been affected by something, probably memories of Roger and the plans they had had, and now Santa, who’d never had a long term boyfriend, was taking this very seriously. It was disturbing somehow; this had meant to be a bit of fun.

Santa slowly stood up, and whether she was ducking her head to avoid the rocks or giving a little bow, it wasn’t clear. She came back to Livia smiling.

“Well, that was jolly interesting, load of bunkum but interesting! Your turn, Liv!”

Livia had a strange twinge of nerves or anticipation or something. She approached the pool without much thought of what she would do, but she knelt and fumbled in her pockets. She had a stump of a pencil, a folded piece of paper, hanky and a rather sticky Murray Mint. She always carried a pencil in case an idea came for a story, or she noticed something unusual, or she overheard a couple of interesting sentences. She felt naked without a pencil but she put the piece of paper down and laid the pencil on top. She sat back on her heels and gazed into the water. It was surprisingly clear and had gathered in a rocky depression; she could see the bumps and lines on the surface of stone at the bottom. There were pebbles and small stones and bits of twig. She noticed a few coins among the natural debris, and there were scraps of leaf and blades of dried grass floating about. She leant slightly forward but there were no reflections of anything although the surface trembled slightly – not with anything supernatural, but with a gentle draft which came from somewhere.

Livia’s knees began to hurt, she was kneeling on something sharp which pressed against the edge of her patella. She was also beginning to get pins and needles, so slightly awkwardly, keeping her eyes hopefully on the pool she stood up, remembering to keep her head low.

She backed away and out into the sunshine which slipped a welcome mantle of warmth over her shoulders.

“What did you see, Liv?” asked Santa, but Livia shook her head and asked what she had seen. “Yes, we should keep it to ourselves, shouldn’t we!” her friend exclaimed, beaming happily. “Come on Vella, let’s head back down, I’m dying of thirst, I’ll buy the cider!”

“And I will buy the sandwiches,” Vella’s eyes had lost their usual sparkle, painted on a smile, and let Livia lead the way down the hillside.

The Future?

The future ?

This is a short history of the events that took place in Europe between 2021 and 2023.

*****

‘It looks as if the SNP is going to get a landslide victory so I can expect ‘that woman’ on the ‘fone any day now demanding a referendum to see if the Scottish people want independence from the UK,’ said Boris gloomily at the cabinet meeting. ‘I suppose all I can do is keep saying ‘no’ in the hope that something changes. Has anyone got any ideas? I can’t go down in history as the Prime Minister  who broke up the Union.’

‘Perhaps she will resign after admitting she misled the Scottish Parliament over the Salmon and Sturgeon fish fight,’ said Michael Gove, hopefully.

‘Huh!’ exclaimed Boris. Have you seen the state of our fishing industry recently?’

‘ I think you need to be bold PM,’ said Gavin.

‘Yes, Pike, what do you suggest?’

‘’That woman’, as you call her, is always carping on about democracy for the Scottish people, so how about some democracy for the rest of the UK? Why don’t we demand that the other three countries get a vote in Indyref2., and please don’t call me PIke.’

‘OK Shirley, I think that is a great idea. Give us your thoughts on that idea please Gover.’

‘Well, with all the problems that woman has been causing for us over the last couple of years and the fact that we subsidise Scotland to the tune of £2,000 per annum for each person, there is an increasing backlash against Scotland. I think England would be glad to see them leave the UK.

There is a good chance that the Northern Irish would vote to rejoin the Republic and so reverse the partition that happened on 3rd May 1922.

‘OK, let’s do it,’ said Boris. ‘This will be the start of a bold, bright new future for England and Wales. Can’t we think of better names?’

‘What about using the traditional ones?’ suggested Shirley. ‘These would be

Scotland – Caledonia

Wales – Cymry

England – Albion

Northern Ireland – Ulster

OK,’ said Boris, ‘Let it be done.

The cabinet meeting was adjourned

*****

‘So what have you political genii achieved since our last meeting?’ demanded Boris ‘ Will you summarise for us please Gover?’

‘Right PM. We have had several meetings both separately and jointly with  the nations of the the UK and we have several conclusions. These are the separate results of the referenda:

1 – Scotland has voted for independence from the UK

2 – Scotland has claimed ownership of  all the oilfields in the North Sea just as COP 28 banned all use of fossil fuels. This means that they will get no income from them but will incur all the shutting down costs of a once huge industry.

3 – Northern Ireland voted to extend the red hand of friendship and rejoin the Irish Republic

4 – The Irish Republic  refused to accept Northern Ireland because of the predicted cost and the fact that the Red Hand is seen as a protestant racist plot by the Republic.

5 – Wales voted to stay with England

6 – England voted for independence from Scotland

7 – Scotland has applied to join the EU but the EU has refused as they cannot meet the financial conditions and the EU Council wouldn’t accept a country where most of its population wears skirts and so all would immediately qualify for the LBGT+ grant.

8 – As the Republic of Ireland has refused to allow Northern Ireland to rejoin the Republic, Northern Ireland has applied to join the EU as a nation state called Ulster. They have been accepted and so this has resolved the border issue as Ulster will be part of the Schengen agreement so there will be no need to have a border between the Republic and Ulster.

9 – Scotland is now negotiating with Iceland to see if they can join them and share their fish. There were also talks about a tunnel being constructed from Cape Wrath to Akureyri but a survey has shown that it will be hugely expensive as it is a long, long way to Akureyri.

10 – One of the top Albion civil servants, Lord Adrian of Bexhill, has been given the job of negotiating with the Scots about the route and location of the new border between Scotland and England. This will have a wall along it which will be called ‘Adrian’s Wall. Boris ruled on this after Adrian complained that, if Barnett could have a formula named after him, why couldn’t he have a wall?

11 –  Scotland will introduce a new currency backed by the Bank of Scotland. Starting rate is set at two Scottish Jocks to one pound sterling. After one year the rate is predicted to stand at 20 pence to 1 Jock in Stirling.

12 – If Scotland cannot find  a solution to their problems, they have threatened to use the nuclear submarines at Faslane to invade the USA and then surrender the same day so that they will become the 52nd state. They will then negotiate a free trade deal with zero tariffs on Whiskey and deep fried Hershey bars.

12 – They have also threatened that, if England doesn’t sort out the constitutional mess pronto, they will allow “that woman” to stand as an MP in an English seat. Can you imagine Prime Minister’s questions if that happens Boris?

‘That’s about the situation at the moment, PM. ‘ Said the cabinet office minister.

‘Thank you Michael, certainly a lot to think about.’

© Richard Kefford 2021

My next Radwinter story

Lois has an update on what she has been working on:

I’m afraid I am making very slow progress with my next Radwinter story; I have loads of ideas, mistaken identity, an old lady who has gone missing having left her dog Tony with a neighbour, a missing person – believed drowned, and two little girls who are being neglected by their parents… plus the on-going story of the lives of Thomas and Kylie Radwinter and their ever-increasing family. Here is an excerpt which I hope will you will enjoy and which I also hope will encourage me to get going and finish the bloomin’ thing!

Feeling bored after another perfectly nice client had commissioned me to do a perfectly harmless but dreadfully dull job, and heading slowly back to the carpark, an area apparently awaiting development as it had for the last half dozen years, and thinking I might bob into the Orange Tree for a swift half before going home, I noticed a new micro pub.
I decided to reward myself with a swift half and check it out. It was called The Black Bonny and I stood for a moment looking at it. It had been a small shop, something dingy and tatty but now it looked smart and inviting. It’s oak door was held open by an old black iron something, the glass etched with an elegant horse’s head. Was Black Bonny a race horse, and was this her?
The door swung open and a couple of rather burly blokes came through and I stepped back to let them pass but they stopped and stared at me. My heart sank and I didn’t have a good feeling. I’d never seen either before but they seemed to recognise me.
One turned back into the pub and called someone. Should I revert to my original plan of dropping into the Orange Tree? Before I could gather my rambling thoughts another man appeared between the two blokes and came straight up to me standing so close I had to step back.
“You bloody Pollack!! Think you can treat me like shit?”
Before I could protest that I had never seen him before in all my life he aimed a blow at me which only glanced off my cheek as I ducked away. Being bullied as a child taught me well the art of ducking and diving and I hadn’t quite lost it.
“I don’t know who the hell you are!“ I shouted loud enough for passers-by to turn and look at the potential brawl even as they tried to avoid us.
I kept to my feet and backed off ready to retreat further, my fists coming up in defence – although I was no good at fighting and would pretty soon be flat on my back and somewhat hurt if these strangers attacked me. The man however was peering at me and began to look marginally less aggressive.
“Hang about, you’re not that bloody Pollack are you?” he said as if disappointed and I agreed I wasn’t.
“Bloody sorry mate, mistaken identity, soz, ok?” And he stuck out his hand.
I took it expecting a bone crusher but no it was an ordinary handshake and a fist bump and I was dragged into the Black Bonny, the glass panelled door swinging wide as the four of us almost tumbled into a small bar.
“Oi! Out I already told you, you’ve had enough! See you another time but not now!”
We were being ordered out by a tall man behind the bar wearing a flame coloured dress and a long curly beard.
What an interesting welcome. The men with me in were saying fair do mate, soz man, see you later, laters and shuffling out, just harmless drunks – unless they mistook you for someone else.
I was sufficiently intrigued by the Black Bonny to look indignant and tell the man with the beard that I didn’t know the four drunks but they’d mistaken me for some Polish guy.
I guess I looked respectable enough in my smart trousers and grey jacket and although he didn’t apologise he asked pleasantly what I wanted and I stepped up to the tiny bar.

Here’s a link to my Amazon page where you can find my books including the previous seven Radwinter stories – all as eBooks or paperback:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=lois+elsden&crid=2E5KR50C51DVR&sprefix=lois+elsd%2Caps%2C272&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_9

My featured image by the way, is our beloved local, the Dolphin, back in happy times when we could just saunter down for a pint and meet friends and relax and chill. Fingers crossed those days will return soon.

A commonplace

Lois has been thinking about reading, and about writing:

I don’t know why but just recently the words commonplace book seem to have kept bobbing up – in things I’ve been reading, inevitably on social media, and in my thoughts as I’ve been reading a particularly good book. A commonplace book is something I associate with past times, with people, particularly women, jotting phrases, quotes, lines of poetry and other little phrases and pieces of writing they come across and want to remember. Maybe they want to remember them because they are interesting, pertinent, amusing, meaningful, or in some other way resonate or appeal.

Commonplace – as a noun or an adjective, means ordinary, everyday, usual – and in fact when I looked it up there were seventy-five other words or phrases meaning the same thing. A commonplace book however seems to be a record of things which aren’t run of the mill, middle of the road, mainstream or unremarkable – they are things which strike the reader as being unexceptional, undistinguished, uninspired, unexciting or unmemorable. I’m not sure if I was surprised or not to find they date back to Greek and Roman times, as Wikipedia tells me:

Commonplace books, or commonplaces are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They have been kept from antiquity, and were kept particularly during the Renaissance and in the nineteenth century. Such books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts. Each one is unique to its creator’s particular interests but they almost always include passages found in other texts, sometimes accompanied by the compiler’s responses.

When I was a student it was a thing to copy quotes from books which we were expected to memorise and regurgitate in essays and exams – in fact one of my A-level teachers expected our essays to be little more than a string of quotes – all credited of course, to answer whatever the question was she had posed. Her argument was that we were all too ignorant to have opinions of our own, and I wonder whether that cost me several grades in my exams. This is straying from the point!

The reason I’ve been thinking of commonplace books is I am so enjoying and so impressed by Kindred: life, love, death and art, by Rebecca Wragg Sykes which I wrote about yesterday. It is such an amazing book, and I keep reading out bits which I particularly like, but of course, now I can’t remember which bits so impressed me. If I had jotted them down I could enjoy them again, if I had a commonplace book (or just ‘commonplace’) I could refer to them later, I could share them here or with friends. It made me think back to other books with memorable passages, sentences or phrases – I remember laughing out loud at passages in the first in the River of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, called, unsurprisingly, Rivers of London. If I had jotted them down I could be having a chuckle right now at them. Other authors who spring to mind whose influence has been important to me – John le Carré, Dickens, Simon Armitage… I could have a lovely and useful selection of what I have most admired in what they have written.

I didn’t realise that commonplacing, as it’s called when you keep such a notebook, goes along with journaling (including dream journaling) keeping a diary and a writer’s note-book as something which aspiring writers are advised to do. As I’ve mentioned before, I keep most of my ideas and observations in my head as I often can’t remember what my scribbled notes mean, or what their significance is, but I know people who do keep very detailed diaries/journals/notebooks… which I guess is what is understood now as a commonplace. Here is a really interesting and useful article about it:

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-keep-a-commonplace-book#4-benefits-of-keeping-a-commonplace-book

The article has much to ponder on and offers an answer to the question of why keep a commonplace; in brief it will help one

  • To remember what inspired you
  • To save hours on research
  • To find unexpected connections
  • To focus your future reading

Some way away from anything precipitous

Our writing group challenge had the title of ‘Precipice’ a couple of months ago. I guess most people’s thoughts would stray towards a physical, mountainous precipice, but that seems a little too limited and maybe too obvious. I grew up in Cambridgeshire which is notoriously flat even though the city of Cambridge is supposedly built on seven hills – I’m not sure many visitors or even residents would notice that. There are the Gog Magog Hills to the southeast of the city, rising to a magnificent height of 246ft. but I mostly think of the low lying fens which to me are my Cambridgeshire. This is obviously some way away from anything precipitous.

Being afraid of heights was never a problem as a child because to be honest the highest thing I remember is the diving boards at the swimming pool, and I had no fear of them. I remember standing on cliffs at the seaside, and when I was older and went to the south of France with friends, I thought nothing of the mountainous tracks we went up, or the fabulous views we looked over. Heights made little impact on me. I don’t actually know when I became a little sensitive and uneasy about heights – I won’t say afraid of heights, but now I just don’t like being up high and looking down. However, what is worse is being at the bottom of something tall and looking up – no I’m not afraid, I just don’t like it!

Back to ‘Precipice’; the first thought which came into my mind is that terrible, horrible, ghastly feeling when something has gone wrong, something has gone wrong and either it’s your fault, or it’s something which affects you in a dramatic and drastic way. In my last teaching job I had many areas of responsibility, but the absolute worst was being exams officer. It was completely outside my area of expertise, outside my abilities – I’m not methodical or meticulous, I’m dreadfully absent-minded, my mind wanders, I have sudden flashes of inspiration which divert me – absolutely perfect for teaching arts subjects or handling difficult students, but not what you want for someone who has to check on codes, numbers, dates, etc… Fortunately nothing ever went wrong, goodness knows how, but thankfully all the exam papers arrived for the right students, they all sat the right exams on the right day at the right time, having studied the correct syllabus, and everything was returned to the exam board on time. However it was an extremely anxious time for me because I knew how easily I might make a mistake. Just the thought of something going wrong and me wrecking the chances of the kids who’d worked so hard induced terrible feelings of almost debilitating anxiety and stress, and that was when I felt I was on the edge – teetering on the edge of a precipice looking down in horror. It was a sort of draining, nightmarish virtual vertigo, as I knew all that could go wrong, the consequences of it, and that it would be my fault.

I’m not sure if that gives me any inspiration for writing for my group, but having written the above, I am now feeling quite anxious and twitchy remembering it!

NEED TO KNOW? Its all inside..

Last week, I was moving books around in my bookcase, as you do, trying to make room for more books.  On the bottom shelf I realised I had a lot of old volumes relating to Household Management, Cookery, and Family Matters. The books date from 1867 (very battered) to the 1950s. Naturally I started reading…

The older ones seemed to be from another planet! Even to me, now in my 80s, the ‘ideal’ cookers and décor for sitting rooms made me wonder firstly, how anyone managed to cook a dinner, and secondly, how anyone managed to see in the gloom of heavy curtains and dark walls and furniture.

Enquire Within (1899) has sensible sections, but Consult Me (1867) lists everything in alphabetical order, with some lovely juxtapositions. ‘Detergent’ is followed by ‘Devonshire Soup’, followed by ‘Diabetes’ (with no knowledge of insulin at that time, of course). An alarming section was called ‘Domestic Surgery’, but turned out to be instructions for bandaging!   

The Woman’s Book: Contains Everything a Woman Ought to Know is dated 1927 inside, but that is surely a reissue, as the whole tone of the book is very much earlier, and is quite Edwardian. That ‘ought’ depresses me to start with, though it does assume a house has servants, a cook/housekeeper and a maid at the very least. It seems very old-fashioned, there are illustrations of ancient cookers, and the instructions for making a hat for a little girl involving ruched silk, ending up in a silky halo round a little girl with curly ringlets. There are chapters on the ‘Treatment of Servants’, and a worrying diet sheet for an 18-month-old child, seemingly consisting of bread and milk! It is however, a very comprehensive and practical book, there is even a section on careers for women, in agriculture and horticulture; secretarial; medical and nursing, and various creative occupations. And if you never knew how to darn a sock, it’s all here!

The New Home Encyclopaedia (1932) starts with building a new home! Not with your own hands, but with advice as to site, underlying soil, plumbing systems, and choosing architects and builders. Very few of us today would have those problems! There is great emphasis on the value of fresh air, especially for children, and a big section on gardening.

One of my favourite ‘comfort’ books is Diary of a Provincial Lady, by E.M. Delafield, first published as a weekly serial in Time and Tide in 1930. In it we see the first beginnings of ‘the servant problem’ as young girls became unwilling to spend their lives in domestic drudgery. The Provincial Lady complains of the dreadful coffee Cook sends up, but cannot say anything for fear Cook gives in her notice!

By the early 1930s there were many young couples who were setting up home in one of the new-build houses which were springing up across the country. Brought up, perhaps, in a home with a maid or Cook General, or even never taught any home cooking, the young woman found herself flummoxed by the problems of running a house and cooking for her husband. These were the women for whom the next three books were written.

I think my favourite of the three (though it is a close-run thing!) is Everybody’s Best Friend. Written in the style of what we might call ‘Agony Aunt’ questions and replies, it covers a huge range of subjects, with an excellent index at the back. Starting with ‘Love and Courtship Problems’, it moves onto ‘For Better, for Worse’, then to ‘Difficult Husbands’ and ‘Difficult Wives’. Everything about the home is followed by ‘Parents and Children’, ‘Education’, ‘Etiquette’, ‘Developing Personality’ (actually basic psychology) right through to financial, legal and insurance matters. Honestly, I can browse through this for ages! Whoever wrote the questions had a real feel for the way problems can worry and upset us.

But I also have a quiet giggle at some of them:

“Moods! Heavens! How sick I am of her ‘moods’. The truth is they are ruining our married life.”

And,

“I am very fond of Jim, but I do think men are terribly selfish. Why should my husband expect me to account for every penny of my housekeeping … though he keeps no record of his pocket money”.

Another favourite book is The Marriage Book, published in the late 1930s. It should really be called The Family Book, as it is mostly concerned with children and the practicalities and difficulties of bringing them up. It is also very keen on fresh air and exercise, preferably together. Unlike the previous compendiums, it is lavishly illustrated with pictures of curly-headed tots in cute clothes. One picture made me shudder – a knitted swimsuit! Do you remember knitted swimsuits? One dip in the sea, and they hung around your knees, full of heavy water! It covers most of the subjects in Everybody’s Best Friend but in a more standard fashion.

Three further helpful books for the new homemaker were Keeping House with Elizabeth Craig (1936), a massive tome called The Home of Today, and Every Woman’s Book of Homemaking, both probably around the same date.

Elizabeth Craig is immensely practical, but oh! So bossy and forthright! The first sentence in the foreword says “If you want to keep house with me, you must keep house very simply. I’ve no use for elaborately decorated or furnished homes or for elaborate meals”. But for all that it is a very useful book, with plenty of photographs, and additionally, something I hadn’t found elsewhere, clear line drawings of kitchen utensils, ways to paper a ceiling, and so on. However, it is still ‘of its age’, and there is a chapter on running a house with servants. Although the rest of the book Ithink assumes there is no help in the house, some of the photographs of suggested interiors have an air of a rather earlier age than does Home of Today.

Every Woman’s Book of Homemaking is again immensely practical but in a rather gentler tone than Elizabeth Craig’s. Even so, the timetables for housework for every day of the week, plus ‘special tasks’ for each day made me wonder how the poor wife survived! Her day started at 6.45am when she pulled the bedclothes back and opened the windows. Presumably husband rose too and vanished into the bathroom, while Mrs Housewife cleaned the living-room fireplace, lit the fire, and prepared and cooked breakfast. Then she cleared away, washed up, put away, swept the front porch and cleaned the letter box. Then she started preparing the midday dinner. Back to the living room, swept hearth, dusted, mopped floor, swept rugs with carpet sweeper (no vacuum cleaner?) opened windows, then the special work, which meant turning out sitting room and first bedroom on alternate weeks. Then onto bathroom (hope husband hung up his towels!) and worked down the stairs, mopping and dusting to the hall, mopped and dusted also, rugs shaken and replaced. 11.30am to 12 is ‘free’ time for any extra housework that needs doing! 12 noon, cook midday dinner and start on high tea. Lay dinner table.  Who is this for?  Does husband come home for dinner?  One o’clock dinner, then it’s clear up, wash up and tidy up scullery. From 2.30pm to 5.30pm is free time until she starts all over again. Cooking, eating, washing up, tidying up and final job of the day at 6.45pm is to lay breakfast!

I feel exhausted just thinking about it!

The only post-war book I have is one called Modern Homes Illustrated. Those illustrated all have clean lines, big windows and are laid out in ways that will be familiar to anyone who knows one of the New Towns built in the 1950s. Some of the interiors remind me so much of my parents’ homes. I also have a copy of the March 1950 copy of Housewife (price 1/-). Both of these publications are packed with advertisements that take me right back to the 1950s. Remember Oxydol, anyone?

I eventually moved some of the earlier volumes into another bookcase, to make room for those I had bought recently. But I am not going to get rid of any of them. Why, I might need to know how to dismiss a servant!

(c) Gillian Peall